Telling less, sharing more

2 07 2010

During my flight from Brisbane to Los Angeles on May 26th, it occurred to me that I had never before crossed the Pacific Ocean.  And then it occurred to me that I had not crossed the Pacific Ocean on my way to India in January because I had flown through Frankfurt.  And then I realized that I had gone around the world in five months.

Flying around the world isn’t that hard to do.  With a few thousand bucks, a good dose of insanity, and either a lot of patience or a lot of sleeping pills, anyone can hop back-to-back flights and do it in 2 days… so doing it in five months is not exactly an accomplishment.  But it’s still a little bit cool.

My friend Soham asked me, “how much of this trip is about bragging rights?”  All of it and none of it, I guess… I am my favorite person to brag to, actually; more than I want anyone else to be proud of me, I want to be proud of myself – and that means “conquering” some of the things that scare me, and pitting a larger idea of myself against whatever I currently am.  I’m proud of getting over a history of stage fright by acting in a play.  I’m proud of ripping up my roots in Texas and creating a new life in California by myself.  I’m proud of having been one of the youngest district managers my last company has ever had.  And now, I’m proud of myself for having the ability and nerve to take off for a year in order to follow a dream of traveling.  At some point, each of these things has been terrifying… but the feeling of getting past that “OH SHIT!” moment when you wonder what on earth possessed you to get yourself into such an uncomfortable and challenging position is one thing that I live for. 

When these things are not uncomfortable and challenging, they are exhilarating.  And I argue that, without discomfort and challenge, nothing can be exhilarating.

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I spent a whirlwind month in the U.S. – Los Angeles, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Houston again, NYC, Vermont, Montreal, NYC again.  For a week, our currency felt strange in my hands, I kept wanting to turn onto the wrong side of the street while driving, and I had to get used to American ways of saying things again: “restroom” instead of “toilet,” “garage” instead of “carpark,” “liquor store” instead of “bottleshop,” etc.  In Texas, I noticed (for the first time) accents in the voices of people I’ve known for years. 

In rural Texas, a cashier asked me where I’m from.  It’s not a question that I usually get in my home state, but a few days before I went down there, I got a “wild hair” (literally), and decided it was time for some bright red highlights.  Fun hair was something I had always wanted to try, but knew would have been a problem at my last job.  And the job before that.  And the two jobs before that.  But a long stint of unemployment is the perfect opportunity to act, well, unemployed.  The most interesting comment came from a TSA employee in the Houston airport, who declared, “young lady, you’d better stop eating so much rhubarb – it’s turning your hair red!” – which may not have actually been a compliment, but it made me laugh, so I chose to take it as one.

Stuff like that really makes me miss Texas.  And the cashier, who went on for two minutes after I told her that I live in L.A. about how she saw a Los Angeles bathroom in a magazine one time, and that’s the kind of bathroom she wants in her house someday.  She even tore it out to show it to her boyfriend.  They want to get engaged, but she lives with her grandma, who thinks she’s too young to get married.  And yeah, people tell her she looks like Scarlett Johansson, but she didn’t even know who that was until, like, a year ago!  Gosh, that Scarlett Johansson is pretty.

If that sounds like an alarmingly friendly conversation to have with a stranger, it’s because you haven’t spent enough time in small country towns.  It’s kind of fun… give it a try, sometime.  All you have to do is give someone one personal detail, and just watch how the conversation takes on a life of its own.

This was a particularly memorable stop in Texas because I visited Mrs. Barnes in San Antonio, who (along with her late husband) was my next door neighbor since before my conception 32 years ago until just before last Christmas.  There’s something special about taking a relationship out of context – it’s not as if we couldn’t have predicted that our families would stay in touch if there wasn’t the neighbor link, but to turn up on her doorstep in a new city and sleep under her roof  added a whole new dimension.  It’s the act of choosing the people we want in our lives, and taking steps to make it happen.  It’s something that I stopped taking for granted years ago, but of which it never hurts to be reminded.

Another memorable moment, in Austin – an old friend opening a new side to me.  It was a perfect gift.

I decided to use that as inspiration for my communication with the people I care about.  Too often, I hide in storytelling and asking questions and bravado and self-deprecating humor, when it goes deeper than that.  I go deeper than that, and I undermine myself by not talking about the things that matter.  I have become out of touch with the part of me that is ok with opening up to people, and it creates distance that I have grown comfortable with, but should not have. 

I will try to be better for you.


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5 responses

2 07 2010
wolve

“I will try to be better for you.”
An admirable goal…though sometimes the story helps.
lol you’ve turned Australian! 😛
did you visit any of the rural towns here? those spontaneous conversations are why i’m not a city person, but i’m having fun trying out the city life too.

3 07 2010
Kathryn

That was beautiful. I’m envious of your travels!

5 07 2010
Frances Barnes

I so admire your courage in pursuing your travel dream; and, in the process, discovering a lovely part of yourself.
Enjoy!

16 07 2010
soham

there’s this dating website for married people. the site advertises that it allows married people to find other married people to have affairs with. the idea being that since both people are married, they both have something to lose, so they both will be discrete. i think that’s related to your post. maybe.

22 07 2010
Christine

You totally lost me on that, Soham. Please explain…

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